Once shaky down the stretch, Lorena Ochoa proved again at the Sybase Classic that she's now a lock on Sundays
LORENA OCHOA was sitting next to the crystal vase given to the winner of the Sybase Classic on Sunday—the sixth trophy she has collected this season—when an LPGA tour official approached with one final piece of business. "Do you want to take the trophy with you, or should we send it to you?" the official asked.
"Could you send it?" Ochoa replied.
Such are the logistical hassles of greatness. In the same week that Annika Sorenstam announced she will retire at the end of the season, Ochoa left no doubt about who will carry the LPGA mantle in coming years. Her one-stroke win over five players was her third consecutive Sybase title, the 23rd LPGA victory of her career and the latest testament to her play in the clutch.
Despite a few loose shots on the back nine of the Upper Montclair Country Club in Clifton, N.J., Ochoa lost neither her lead nor her head on Sunday. She rolled in a tricky downhill 12-footer for par at the 13th hole and bounced back from a bogey at 17 with some savvy course management. Clinging to her slim lead on the par-5 18th, Ochoa drove into the trees, but instead of trying a hero shot, she punched out and then knocked a wedge to within eight feet of the hole. After Sophie Gustafson missed a potential tying birdie putt from 10 feet, Ochoa two-putted for a one-under 71 and a 54-hole total of 10-under 206.
Ochoa, who led by two strokes after 36 holes of the rain-shortened Sybase, used to have trouble closing out tournaments. But she has now cashed in on seven straight when in the lead going into the final round and is 17--7 overall as a last-day front-runner. Sorenstam, who finished five shots back in 11th, deserves at least some credit for toughening her up. In 2005 Ochoa blew a four-shot lead with three holes to play at the Safeway International and lost to Sorenstam in a playoff. "I've learned how to close in the last few years," Ochoa says. "I learned the hard way."